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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 12/25/19

Reflections on Eugenics & White Supremacy

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Message Hugh Curran

Eugenics, meaning "well born", is an ideology that believed that one's behavior is caused by genetics and that certain races have traits and mental abilities that are particular to them. Eugenics has a history stretching back to the late 19th century, supposedly based upon scientific principles. It was founded in 1883 by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and assumed that white supremacy had a scientific basis. Its promoters included Clarence Little, who in 1922 became President of the University of Maine and had a building at the University named for him.

After leaving the University of Maine Clarence Little became a President of the University of Michigan in 1925-1929 before founding Jackson Lab in 1929. He later became President of the American Eugenics Society and, for some years, despite ample evidence to its harmful effect, defended tobacco products while being the Director of the Scientific Advisory Board for the Tobacco Industry from 1954-1969. He died in Ellsworth in 1971 at age 83. Although his name was removed from a building at the University of Michigan it continues to arouse heated discussions as to whether the same action should not take place at the University of Maine.

Eugenics has had a number of adherents, including many 19th century intellectuals, as well as other racist movements sharing similar beliefs, such as the Nativism prevalent in the 1850s which tried to limit Irish immigration following the Great Famine. More recently, debates have been taking place on university campuses on the subject of racial divides and whether eugenicists have any relevance since their views were the result of an era lacking a deeper scientific understanding of genetics.

The current science behind genetic studies asserts that human differences in intelligence are relatively minor and that all humans share many traits in common and that differences within racial groups are more marked than those between racial groups. Recently written articles in the New Yorker, the NYRB and Harpers Magazine have placed the topic of "white supremacy" in an historical context.

The New Yorker article discussed Lothrop Stoddard, Madison Grant and W.E.B. DuBois, and noted that both Grant and Stoddard were Harvard trained historians. Lothrop Stoddard became a popularizer of the Nordic Theory of race superiority while Madison Grant was known as the author of: "The Passing of the Great Race", published in 1916. It was soon translated into other languages and read by the populist leader, Adolph H..., who wrote Grant a letter praising the book as "my bible".

International Congresses on Eugenics were widespread in the 1920s and 1930s and included Britain and Italy, Germany and the U.S. Eugenicist theories were soon applied to immigration policies such as the 1924 Immigration Act in the U.S. which drastically limited immigration from E. Europe to the U.S. at a time in which Jewish populations were being severely persecuted.

Eugenic science had become so pervasive that Madison Grant could coin the term "master race" and not be disparaged for doing so. Grant became one of the Directors of the American Eugenics Society which encouraged sterilization as a means to control populations deemed unsuitable. He advocated ridding society of undesirables "who crowd our jails, hospitals and insane asylums Grant considered "tall, blond warlike Nordic people as the creators of Western Civilization. As a regular summer visitor to Bar Harbor, he would have met Clarence Little, who shared much in common, including his role in the American Eugenics Movement. This was also true of Lothrop Stoddard whose 1920 book: The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy had an introduction by Madison Grant and was frequently quoted by President Warren Harding as well as being praised by the NY Times.

In a debate in 1929, mentioned in the New Yorker article, Stoddard and DuBois addressed the question: "Should the Negro Be Encouraged to Seek Cultural Equality?" Stoddard's position was that mulattoes were the cause of social unrest since they exhibited the dangers of "mongrel races". But W.E.B. DuBois' eloquence won the day in a packed hall with 3000 or more in attendance. DuBois argued that cultural equality should be encouraged, not feared". He stated: "Nordics are not a chosen people"There is no scientific proof that Nordics had larger brains or that modern culture was derived from them". He continued: the Nordic program was, in fact, "the subjection and ruler-ship of the world for their own benefit. In actuality they "brought exploitation, slavery and degradation to the majority of men"What black, brown and yellow people want is to have the barriers to equal citizenship torn down."

In a very recently published book: "Skin Deep", Gavin Evans explored the deep-seated ideas concerning "biological determinism" (ie racist science) and showed how it has been appropriated by those who believed there were fundamental differences between races. Evans pointed out, based on IQ tests of immigrants in the 1920s, that many immigrants were considered "morons", but IQ tests, as Evans maintained were: "nothing other than a measure of the potentiality for technical prowess".

Two generations later those immigrant descendants had a higher than average IQ score. Gavin Evans pointed out that racist science is still with us in its attempts to prove that some racial groups are more intelligent than others. But eugenicist beliefs do not stand up under close scrutiny despite white supremacists continuing to echo century old views.

With genetic facts at our disposal we are now able to examine motives that underlie the eugenics movement and gain insight into attitudes and policies that have promoted racial abuses of the past and continue to pervade our political discourses. Although white supremacy is masked in slogans and cliche's in political and media rhetoric, it has been more crudely displayed by groups such as the KKK and the white nationalists of current times.

The underlying attitudes continue to give rise to distorted beliefs that encourage mass shootings in schools, churches, synagogues, and mosques. Those who are alienated from feelings of empathy for others have brought about appalling levels of suffering to schools and communities throughout the nation, and continue to exacerbate pervasive fears in our gun-obsessed society.

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I posted two op ed articles: TO REPEAT: I am a lecturer in Peace & Reconciliation Studies at the University of Maine. I was born in Ireland and immigrated to Canada where I lived for 16 years. I now live in Maine where I have been on the (more...)

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